Through a mask darkly

Through a mask darkly

As the new year begins, in addition to saying good riddance to the old one, I’ve been trying to figure out what I miss the most about the good old pre-pandemic days. I would have to say that what I miss most is frivolity. It’s hard to joke when so many people are sick, or to care very much, if at all, about choosing the right shade of lipstick or fluffing your eyebrows.

Clearly, guarding your health demands a clarity of focus, a kind of tunnel vision. Ironically, so do the high holidays. So perhaps we can accomplish two things at once by perfecting the art of self-examination, not just for the physical symptoms of illness but for emotional health as well.

There’s something wonderful about sitting down with friends — basking in the warmth, enjoying the camaraderie, and feeling a sense of security and belonging. Is that frivolous? Perhaps. It doesn’t feed the homeless or find someone a job or alleviate global warming. But neither does going to synagogue. And yet both experiences, by fulfilling our basic human need for community, make us better people, thereby rendering us more likely to improve the world.

We don’t yet know whether streamed services will have the same effect, but it may be that by forcing us to pay more attention to the liturgy, the commentaries, and the words of our rabbis and teachers, we’ll gain new insights into our responsibility to others.

Actually, that sense of responsibility already is manifest in our willingness to stream our services, foregoing the sense of comfort that comes from sitting, or standing, next to our friends and singing our hearts out when we get to beloved holiday prayers. We have chosen caution, and for now, that’s the best choice we can make.

But back to frivolity, which has disappeared from so many areas of our lives, including the political arena. We can’t poke fun at our opponents because the issues on which we differ are so deadly serious. (But whoopy cushions would be as inappropriate in the Senate as they would be in synagogue, so slapstick is out as well.)

Can we, perhaps, force members of Congress to say an Al Het? To apologize to, and forgive each other for the sins committed through slander and vicious name calling? And how about apologizing to us for putting politics before the needs of the country?

Frivolity and humor are not synonymous. Thank God we Jews have perfected the latter and still can laugh at our own misfortune and the problems of others. But laughter isn’t coming so readily now.

Anyhow, it’s hard to hear it through a mask.

Lois Goldrich of Fair Lawn is, among other things, an editor emerita of the Jewish Standard.

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